The Facts of Life: how to look at readers’ comments on the NYT

For the most part, I don’t use this blog to write about politics because zillions of other people do it and a lot of them express themselves much better than I can.

But I have become greatly fascinated by readers of the news gather information, evaluate and distinguish fact from opinion, and, having done that work, develop and express their own opinions.

For quite a while I’ve been avidly reading those opinions–in the form of letters to the editor–both in the Daily News and the Times.

I’m hooked on ’em. Addicted. I blame the Times, which can attach as many as 4000 comments to an article, for wasting at least an hour of my day in reading their readers’ opinions of stuff and even occasionally, in frustration, replying.

Frustration…how ill-informed–or, rather, superficially informed–so many readers are. They have opinions, yeah, but opinions based on a stunning level of ignorance about so many things: government, politics, propaganda, the character of politicians, and on and on.

They declaim “facts” that are not facts, anecdotal stuff in lieu of facts–“millions of people think the way I do”–and statements like, “Trust me,” and the incessant claim of “I am not a racist.” My automatic reaction: no, I don’t trust you, and if you need to say you’re not a racist, you’re a racist.

If you start your comment with “I didn’t vote for Trump,” or “I think Trump is deplorable,” you voted for Trump. (This particular qualifying insertion began to show up around February–after Trump proved that what he was would not be modified by his new position. The more outrageous his behavior, the more frequent the “I didn’t vote for Trump” modifiers.)

It’s clear to me that many of the opinionators haven’t read the articles at all. What they’ve read are the headlines.

When I read any news articles, I do what I learned to do in high school: I peel off the pejorative language to get the facts.

But a lot of people do not. Who are they? Several notions: they have been assigned by the fake news media they consume to attack real news media–maybe they’ve even been given a script by the Breitbart consortium or one of Murdoch’s propaganda entities? I don’t listen to or read these sources (except when I run into them on Twitter) so I can’t claim this assignment thingee as a fact. I’m inferring it only because the comments use the same phrases, and the commenters do not identify themselves.

Re identification: when I see repetitive comments identified solely by first names like “Jim” who says he lives in “Boston,” I’m guessing that all other first name identities from blue state areas are from the same person whose little fingers are busy on the keyboard, pasting in the same comment–with a few lazy modifications so it doesn’t look like one person wrote it. Which he did, and yes, “Jim,” I’m naming names and the names are “Jim.”

“Jim” is trying to make it seem that out of, say, 1000 comments agreeing with the Times,  there are, gee, eight arguing against it. You know, “fair and balanced.” (“Jim” doesn’t seem to realize that Fox has dropped “fair and balanced” as its slogan, around the time it fired its cohort of sexual harassers, the chief of whom had the grace to die shortly thereafter.)

For a while–back before the Russia Connection began to make headlines–I assumed some of these comments were Russian trolls engaged in their cyber disinformation campaign, or Russian troll-wanna-bes, who were in effect pitching their wares to Kremlin-controlled cyberwar groups. (How much does the Kremlin pay them? Anyone know? Do they pay by the word?)

How could I tell? First, the anodyne names and locations. (See above, re “Jim” and “Boston”.) Except the Russian trolls skipped around the country. Minnesota figures big with these dorks. I guess they’re looking at maps of the USA and throwing darts to get mid-America locations. Some of these trolls (the wanna-bes?) are too ignorant to stay away from dark red states like Nebraska.

Then there’s the language and spelling. I began to pick up “judgement” as a quick way of labeling the opinion as not from “Jim” from “Grand Rapids.” (Note to all Russian Jims: not even the Brits still spell “judgment” with an “e” stuck in there. Although if you read this and decide to change your spelling habits, I’ll still skewer you. I have superpowers.)

The third choice is the obvious one: these are people who do not know how to direct their amorphous rage properly and effectively and have little shame about displaying its naked version, albeit enough shame to use fake names and locations.

Shame. A propellant toward acquiring knowledge and double-checking your sources. And putting some clothes on!

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